Sheffield City Goals

Sheffield is the UK’s fifth largest city by population. It has exceptional assets, including its diverse population and its green spaces. More than 60% of the city’s area is open space, and the Peak District National Park merges with the city’s borders. It has two outstanding universities, between them attracting some 70,000 students at any one time. The two universities have collaborated to further promote Sheffield as a vibrant student city of choice and continue to be vital to the city’s future offering excellent teaching and research and working to develop the highly skilled employment routes which will enable Sheffield and South Yorkshire to retain the talent we attract and grow. During last weekend’s snooker finals, there was a superb eight-minute clip exploring the way the universities and the city are collaborating on the green agenda for the city.

But there’s more to do. Like many former industrial cities around the world, which grew and were shaped by the demands of the first and second industrial revolutions, Sheffield is now navigating the demands of the fourth. The legacies of early industrialisation and de-industrialisation mean that levels of deprivation and inequalities in wealth and health across the city are unacceptably high. Too much of the city’s housing stock is poor quality. The transport infrastructure has been unable to respond to contemporary patterns of demand. The city centre has suffered a series of hammer blows which and struggles to attract residents or visitors. For too long the city has experienced low economic growth.

This is not unique to Sheffield. The range of challenges facing cities in the third decade of the twenty-first century – economic, social, infrastructural, environmental – have been called a ‘polycrisis’: an interlocking web of challenges which impact on every aspect of people’s lives. Cities feel this ‘polycrisis’ both in the immediate human experiences of their citizens, but also in the gradual erosion of their ability to respond. Like other cities, Sheffield needs to be better. It needs to be better for those who live in it. It needs to be better for those who work in it. But it also needs to be better for those we would like to attract here: investors, companies, entrepreneurs, students.

Sheffield is serious about building on its strengths to over overcome its challenges. The city council is now convening a major programme of work to shape thinking about the future goals for Sheffield. These goals need to be two things. They need to be honest and blunt about the scale of the challenges, grounded in the now voluminous data on the difficulties the city faces and the daily experiences of those of us who live here. But they also need to be aspirational and to convey a sense of how the city can be better for all – a better place to live and work. The goals need to provide a long-term vision for the future of Sheffield, expressed in a way that the citizens of the city can stand behind. The goals need to help the city council and others – including the university – to be clearer about our priorities, and to encourage better collaboration between organisations and citizens. They need, above all to drive our response to the challenges cities like Sheffield face and – as far as possible – to help future-proof the city for generations to come. They need to speak to the neighbourhoods of Sheffield and to help consider how this great city moves from being a low wage, low growth economy to one of inclusive growth which can benefit all.

Sheffield City Goals is a tough-minded project, and a brave one. It will demand choices – strategies always do. But done properly it can set a set of shared, high-level goals for the city which engage citizens, communities and stakeholders. It should provide something which Sheffield has lacked for at least forty years – a shared narrative about place which can help to leverage funding whether from government, other public funding bodies, or private investor. It should help to align resources and expertise across the city.

The city council has set appropriately ambitious expectations for both the goals and the process of producing them. The intention is that they should be a  ‘North Star’ to set the long-term strategic direction for the city, but also that they should be built on both empirical evidence and local expertise. They will need to be co-produced if they are to be collectively owned, and then will eventually need clear measurable outcomes, both to steer thinking and to show the citizens of Sheffield what the goals mean for them in realistic terms. They should be a catalyst for collective action and delivery.

The University has been closely involved with the design and development of the City Goals work and on Tuesday 9 May we are holding a workshop for Hallam colleagues. Details of our City Goals workshop are available on SharePoint.

Sheffield’s problems are not unique, but they are serious. This is not because the city has ‘failed’ but because the pace of change, and the scale of the challenge to older industrial cities is so systemic. Other cities are adopting similar place-based approaches to change.  We all know that when we are confronted with difficulties the temptation is to focus inward, when the opposite is needed. The ability to make sense of possible futures together is itself a critical capability in navigating change. The City Goals matter for us all.

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